Shih Huang Ti and The Lost Dog
Copyright © 2009 by Richard S. Platz, All rights reserved

(Click on photos to enlarge)

Tangle Blue and Marshy Lakes Backpack
Trinity Alps Wilderness
Shasta-Trinity National Forest
September 8-12, 2008
Photos by the Author and Barbara Lane Except Where Noted

"She's real friendly and just gave birth to pups."

No damned signs.

Someone was determined to keep Tangle Blue Lake a big secret. Make it disappear from the face of the earth. Every road and trail sign had been stolen or defaced beyond legibility. Even the plastic paddle markers along the gravel logging roads had been sawed off at ground level.

The systematic eradication of all signs pointing to Tangle Blue Lake would have pleased Shih Huang Ti, the self-proclaimed First Emperor of China. Shih Huang Ti decreed that all books predating him should be burned. History was to begin with him. That was in 213 B.C., but some ideas stay with us.

Curiously, this same Shih Huang Ti was also the emperor to first ordain the construction of the Great Wall. Writer Jorge Luis Borges was "inexplicably pleased and, at the same time, disturbed" by the origin of these two vast undertakings in the same man. I can understand how he felt.

We saw no sign of a wall going up.

Fortunately, Barbara and I had been to Tangle Blue Lake together once before. A few years later I had returned in the company of Mr. Popper and a mutual friend named "Bob." My backpack with the Bobs. So I remembered that the turnoff for the lake was a sharp left just after the first hairpin switchback crossing Scott Mountain Creek as Highway 3 began its serpentine climb over the mountain. The gravel road was utterly unmarked and unremarkable. On instinct we stayed left at every road junction until we found ourselves high on the mountainside overlooking Tangle Blue Creek.

We arrived at a wide place in the road just as a small sports car was wheeling around to leave. I rolled open the window and gazed down on a young woman with a wide Carmen Diaz smile.

"Is this the trailhead to Tangle Blue Lake?"

She assured me that it was, gesturing to a brand new Forest Service kiosk that had not yet been chain-sawed down and burned. The locked gate lay just around the bend, she told us. She had run up to the lake and back in less than two hours. "Funny thing, though," she added, "there's a tent up there at the lake and no one around. And someone left a bathing suit hanging from a bush about half-way up. Weird."

Thrilled that we had navigated to the right place, we took little notice of her soon-to-be-relevant observations. I thanked her and wished her a pleasant trip out.

"Have a nice day," she smiled and vanished up the dusty road.

We were alone. There were no other cars. To the kiosk a fresh map was screwed beneath a sheet of Plexiglas. The map confirmed that we were parked at the Tangle Blue Lake trailhead (N 41 13' 39.4", W 122 42' 26.2", 4600 feet). That's the trouble with just destroying the signs. New ones go up. Outsiders can still find their way in. The locals were going to have to get started on that wall.

No fire restrictions were posted. The Trinity Alps Wilderness had miraculously reopened after an entire summer of hellish conflagration. We feared the fires would burn until Autumn rains began. But motoring north on Highway 3 from Weaverville, we had passed beneath but a single high plume of yellow-gray smoke drifting eastward from a fire still burning at Caribou Lakes. It smudged the clear blue sky. Otherwise, the fires were out.

It was already dinner time. We ate sandwiches from a deli in Weaverville before setting up camp. Then we explored the parking area and began preparing our backpacks. That evening we fell asleep in the van around 9:00 o'clock as darkness closed in.

Less than an hour later, headlights woke us. A Suburu Forester had pulled into the parking lot. I watched two figures get out, sort through and strap on small daypacks, then head up the trail by the ghostly light of headlamps. Odd. Why would anyone be setting out in total darkness? And without sleeping bags? Ten minutes later they returned, chirped open their car, added something to their packs, then headed out again.

First thing Monday morning we sniffed around the Suburu, peering through the tinted windows for any sign of what madness might cause two hikers to venture up the rugged trail in pitch blackness without sleeping bags. The evidence was not in the vehicle, but on a new sheet of paper thumb-tacked to the kiosk. The posting advertised for a Lost Dog named "Molly." Molly was very friendly and had recently had pups. The page contained a color photograph and contact telephone numbers. "She's white with brown spots," it told us.

"Aha," I said. "Didn't that girl in the car see an abandoned tent up at the lake?"

Barbara nodded. "And something about clothes hanging from a bush."

"That's where they were headed. To find their lost dog."

It made sense. Their sleeping gear was already up at the tent. They had come down to print and post the sign and returned in the dark in case the dog came back. Not madness at all. Just extreme behavior. But a lost dog can do that to you. We would likely encounter them again along the way.

Tangle Blue Lake is situated on the Craggy Peak Pluton. Mesozoic magma bubbled up through an ultramafic ophiolite, which had itself been raised up from its deep ocean crypt as improbably as Lazarus. Beneath the surface the silicate magma hardened into granite as it jostled for position. The resulting interaction between the basement rock and the granitic intrusion, now exposed by an epoch of uplift, glaciation, and erosion, left a roughly circular granitic pluton, perhaps twelve miles in diameter. From the northeast the broad, rectangular, ultramafic thrust block of Scott Mountain penetrates to the pluton's center, like an hour hand pointing toward two o'clock. From the south another narrow thorn of ultramafic rock pierces the circle by some incomprehensible cataclysm. Just beyond the point of the thorn, in the eroding granite pluton, lies Tangle Blue Lake. Our trail would cross and recross both geological domains.

The wilderness lying between Tangle Blue Lake and Scott Mountain summit to the northeast is laced with old mining roads, most of which have been abandoned. A few are still maintained. The one into Camp Unalayee is marked "Private" on the wilderness map. Some wilderness.

We began our trek on a road that climbed southwest, bound for the Grand National Mine in about three miles and 1500 feet higher. We would not follow it that far. A steel pipe gate at the trailhead blocked unauthorized vehicular traffic. The wide road quickly dropped to a bridge crossing high above the turbulent waters of Tangle Blue Creek. Our trail would follow the creek all the way to our destination, crossing and recrossing it twice more at fords beyond the end of an old spur road that was no longer maintained. Fishermen and local ne'r-do-wells used to be able to drive their 4-wheelers to the end of that road and tote their six packs and watermelons the last half-mile to the lake. Now they have to hike more than three miles and climb an extra 800 feet. They're mad as hell about it. Mad enough to deface every damned Forest Service sign along the path.

Our trail followed the Grand National Mine road as it climbed steeply above the creek, arcing around the nippled pyramid of a small granite peak. After the road crossed the wilderness boundary about half-way to the lake, we came to a right-hand fork blocked by another steel gate. This was an old trailhead. The junction signs had been torn down or defaced.

We took the fork to follow an abandoned and overgrown spur road through tall mixed-conifer forest just above the creek bank. Gigantic incense cedar and Douglas fir towered over the trail. This was a beautiful, shady stretch with several good campsites along the creek. In a half mile the trail dropped into a marshy area with patches of scrub alder. A few small Darlingtonia fens confirmed the ultramafic nature of the soil. In a narrow willow thicket we saw a woman's bathing suit hung on a branch low to the ground. Its scent was no doubt intended as a beacon to the lost Molly, assuring her that this was the right way home.

Soon we arrived at our first ford of Tangle Blue Creek. The water was low and we crossed easily on the rocks. Any trace of a road crossing had been erased by flood waters. On the other side, the trail switch-backed up a dry bench before continuing along another abandoned road high above the water. Maybe it was the same road. A colorful stew of granite, peridotite, gabbro, and serpentine rocks and boulders, weathered to the roundness of beach balls, lined the broad creek channel in a melange of alluvial deposits and glacial till brought down from the competing bedrock formations above.

In a half mile we arrived at a wide washout and dropped down to a substantial creek flowing down from the Marshy Lakes to join Tangle Blue Creek. Again we crossed easily on the rocks. The trail resumed the road, which began to climb away from the creek for another quarter mile. On the left a broad, dry meadow appeared, sloping down to Tangle Blue Creek.

Abruptly we came upon our first legible trail sign. Screwed high to the rough, ruddy bark of an ancient incense cedar, old and worn, gnawed across the top, and streaked with moss, the sign looked like it had hung there since before the wilderness was created. Perhaps since the time of Shih Huang Ti. We had penetrated the perimeter of the kingdom. We were inside the wall. Across the top we could make out the words, "Tangle Blue Tr 8W01." An arrow pointed left to Tangle Blue Lake down a narrow, matted path through the amber meadow grass. Straight ahead, the sign informed us, the road continued on to Marshy Lakes.

We left the road and dropped through the dry, brittle grass to again ford Tangle Blue Creek at Messner Cabin. No sign of the original cabin timbers remained. Just the remnants of an old stove, some boards, and junk. A historical site. As we paused in the shade of the tall, stout trees, with the creek murmuring below and the meadow spread out invitingly on the other side, we wondered what it might have been like to spend a season here. Or an entire year. Or maybe a lifetime. Would such a life have mattered any less than the raucous, wired, city hubbub does now for most of the planet's nearly seven billion souls?

From Messner cabin we embarked on a steep, three-quarter-mile climb through the forest. Near the top, almost four hundred feet above, the trail threaded roughly through the willow and alder thickets lining the outflow from Tangle Blue Lake. We ascended out of the domain of ruddy, ultramafic soils to the clean white granite cliffs and outcroppings embracing the lake. This last exhausting stretch has always seemed longer than it is.

At a saddle in a clearing we arrived at the lake's north shore. Forest Service rock-and-mortar stoves had been built here years ago at three campsites perhaps a hundred feet apart along the level bench above the lake. When I last hiked here with the Bobs, we had spread out, setting up our tents at each of the three campsites for privacy. Late that first evening, a young woman had arrived with her little girl, and we told her the campground was full, sending her on a muddy slog to the far end of the lake. I still cringe at this selfish affront to decency.

At the campsite on the left two young men milled about a small domed tent. The other two spots were vacant. We dropped our backpacks at the middle site, just above the lake's outflow. I wandered over amiably.

"Hello," I said. "You the fellows lost your dog?"

The younger of the two stepped forward. "I lost a dog." He looked to be in his middle to late twenties, clean-cut, slight of build, and wiry. "Have you seen‘er?"

"No. Saw your sign at the trailhead." I explained that we were camped in the van when they passed through in the dark the night before. "We saw you hiking in by headlamp. Must've been tough."

"Not too bad. I'm Mike." He stuck out his hand and we shook. "An'that's my brother-in-law," he added, pointing to the other man, who nodded. Mike explained that he and his wife had driven over from Redding on Saturday and hiked in with their two kids to spend the night. Molly was with them. Sometime Sunday Molly had lit out barking after some quail into the rocks along the rough northwest shore, where ragged blocks of granite tumble into the water. "We waited, but she never came back. Called after her. Set out in that direction calling all the way over into the next valley, but she must've got lost or hurt."


"She'd just given birth to pups, so she was actin' kinda strange." He shook his head. "Kids were heartbroken, havin' t'hike out without her."

"Well, we're going to be here at least two days," I said. "We'll keep an eye out for her."

"‘Preciate that." He told me that he and his brother-in-law were just getting ready to pack up and hike out so they could post signs at other trailheads where Molly might venture out. Mike planned to come back with his wife the following day, if she could get off work. "She's real friendly."

I assumed he meant the dog, and nodded. Theirs seemed to be the best campsite, so I asked, "Do you mind if we take your spot when you leave?"

"No, not at all. If Molly sees you here, she's bound t'stick around ‘til we get back."

So while they took down their tent and packed up, we waited, biding our time eating lunch and nosing around. We broke out our new SteriPen. For years we had pumped water through a mechanical filter to eliminate giardia and other waterborne pathogens. This trip, in order to save a few ounces, we had brought along a new-fangled device advertised to accomplish the same results by swirling a ultraviolet light stick through a quart bottle of water. It was supposed to be even more effective. But it didn't seem to work right. The light kept going off before the 90 seconds required for safe purification. We read and reread the instructions, to little avail. It took us three or four attempts to purify a single quart of water.

"How're we gonna know if it's actually working?" Barbara wanted to know, sipping and handing me the bottle.

I drank deeply and passed it back. "I guess we'll find out soon enough."

After Mike and his brother-in-law departed, we hauled our backpacks over to their campsite (N 41 12' 28.5", W 122 44' 37.2", 5775 feet). It was a splendid spot in a line of white firs along a bench above the water, broad, open, flat, and a little apart from the other two campsites. It offered a five-star view of the lake. A nice grassy beach lay below, hidden by the slope. A ring of rock against one side of the crumbling stone stove formed a fine fire pit.

We set up our tent and sat by the water for a long time. An osprey perched on a branch nearby helped us keep vigil over the sparkling water. During our stay at Tangle Blue Lake we would see osprey, a red-tailed hawk, juncos, peeping white- and red-breasted nuthatches, chickadees, a flicker, and at night, great horned owl. A regular birding hot spot. It was a rare treat to have the popular lake all to ourselves.

Tuesday morning Barbara and I sat beside the calm water with our tea and mocha, enjoying the solitude. I considered the origin of the name "Tangle Blue", which has been variously described, mostly having to do with a drunken miner waking up with a hangover and tangled feet. I found no poetry in these historical accounts. Myself, I preferred to envision a Chinese monk of no particular sect, perhaps a distant descendant of Shih Huang Ti on a pilgrimage north from the Taoist temple in Weaverville, sitting quietly beside the still lake waters for countless days and awakening one morning from a dream in which a whispered haiku revealed the lake's true name. The full haiku might have elegantly explained the purpose and intent of the human condition, but the balance was forgotten when the simple monk turned his full attention to morning ablutions. Only "Tangle Blue" survived.

As we sat in silence, rocks tumbled sporadically down the steep slope beyond the trees to our right, across the outlet stream. Whatever was knocking them down sounded big. I wondered aloud if it might be a bear. Barbara thought it might be a cow. She had heard a cow bellowing earlier as we lay in the tent. Or maybe a horse. We meditated on the alternatives. Just when we thought we might have imagined it, another rock would clatter down the talus slope.

Suddenly Barbara thought she heard a forlorn bark. "Molly?" she asked. She jumped up and called out "Molly!"

I joined the call, and after several tries we were answered with a series of sharp barks that trailed into a painful yip. I called again, and again was met with barking. They seemed to be coming from behind us. We scrambled up the bank to the meadow, calling and listening for the direction of the barks, then I ran up the slope and plunged into the trees in pursuit. After maybe a dozen iterations of call and response, the barking ceased. I envisioned an exhausted dog, who had spent her last breaths calling for help, now lying still and spent in the underbrush. Perhaps lifeless. With urgency and trepidation, I continued to call "Molly" as I pressed on up the slope, scanning each clearing, all the way to the ridge crest, but found nothing.

We never heard another bark. Lost, half delirious, and recognizing that we were not her people, she had apparently dropped down the far slope cross-country in the general direction of the trailhead. At least she seemed to be heading the right way.

A malaise settled over us as we attempted to dayhike around the lake, always hoping to see or hear Molly. We tried the lower route around the east side through the thick shoreline brush, but the trail became swampy. The mud was deep enough to suck off our boots. We turned back and tried a route higher up the eastern slope, but turned back again when the path veered left over a high pass in the general direction of Eagle Creek. So we backtracked through our camp and found a fisherman's trail along the rocky west shore.

On a cold night in October thirteen years earlier we had camped at the far, southern end of the lake on a granite outcropping above a broad wet meadow. A photo still hangs from our refrigerator. We had spent but a single night, because on the second day I came down with a sore throat, fever, and chills. We found our old campsite, which, like the intervening years, had become overgrown and little used.

On our way back to camp we hiked past a taciturn young couple, newly-arrived, setting up a tent in the trees a little back from the west shore of the lake. Later we saw the woman hiking out by herself. We never saw him again.

When we got back to our camp, we discovered that another lone backpacker had arrived and set up his tent at the crumbling stove furthest from us, above the outlet stream gorge. Popular place. Before long we found him sitting just below our camp watching the lake. He was middle-aged, short, trim, and unaccountably dapper for the primitive setting, like maybe he planned on filming an L. L. Bean commercial. His name was Bob. That made my third "Bob" at Tangle Blue. Bob seemed intent on chatting. Hiking all alone will do that to you. He had seen the sign about Molly, but had not heard or seen the dog. We described our encounter that morning. Slowly he began acquainting us with previous excursions he had undertaken, near and far. Silence was no longer golden. After a while, we climbed back up to start a fire and cook dinner. Bob left us alone.

Wednesday morning we awoke to the sound of voices. Someone had hiked in during the night and in the darkness set up a domed tent at the middle campsite. I recognized Mike and walked over to see how the search for Molly was going. He introduced his wife, Chere, who was shorter than he, but appeared more athletic. Molly's owners planned to spend the week searching for her. Barbara joined me and we told them about our encounter the previous morning, our calling "Molly," and the barking responses. No one was quite sure what it meant, and why she had not come to us. But they were certain it had been Molly. We exchanged names and telephone numbers, and they set off calling after their lost dog.

While we were taking down our tent, Bob came by to tell us he was going to spend the day hiking up to Marshy Lakes and the Pacific Crest Trail, then return to Tangle Blue Lake. That was fine with us. Upper Marshy Lake was our destination, too, but we planned to spend the next two nights there. Hopefully by ourselves.

We descended the trail to Messner Cabin and crossed Tangle Blue Creek, then left the path to follow a faint trace through the meadow grass to intercept the road a quarter mile above the trail junction. We turned left to climb the road west toward Big Marshy Lake 900 feet above us. Soon the road switched-back eastward, and there we found another ancient, broken sign propped against the foot of a massive Douglas fir and half buried in the duff. Some of the words were legible, "Tangle Blue Lake" and "Marshy Lakes," but the directions and distances were indecipherable. Nailed to the rough bark was a newer sign that simply read, "Trail," with an arrow pointing straight ahead.

We continued westward on the trail through a mature mixed-conifer forest, then climbed northwest up the steep slope to emerge by a small tarn at the edge of a broad, open valley. We had crossed over into a different geological provence, an ophiolite, a landscape of rusted rock and open grassland. The nutrient-poor ultramafic soil supported a thinner forest dominated by towering pines, white firs, and incense cedar. Our trail ended at a graded road, unsigned, a taxing 500 feet above Messner Cabin.

Across the valley to the north, unseen in a canyon on the forested slopes of Scott Mountain, would be Mosquito Lake and Camp Unalayee, a private inholding supporting a wilderness youth summer camp. During the summer, these roads would be crawling with children and their young adult counselors. Fortunately it was already past Labor Day and the camp was closed. Some of the roads in this valley were still maintained to access the camp and other residual private holdings.

We followed the road west as it climbed gently above the southern flank of the unnamed creek that we assumed was flowing out of the Marshy Lakes. A sign broken on the ground advised us to leave the road to follow a path through a willow swale to Little Marshy Lake. We took the path, thus repeating the same mistake the Bobs and I had made on my last visit.

Little Marshy Lake is another private inholding within the wilderness. The shallow pond sits in a lush meadow at the foot of a red-rock cliff. A spur road enters the parcel near an elaborately decorated outhouse, a fire pit with benches, stone paths, a bridge, and a bizarre grave marker commemorating a "Moon Gazer Trailor," rest in peace. The owner was apparently a hold-out hippie from the 60's.

We stopped for lunch. Afterward, I explored the lake's marshy north shore. In the woods at the west end I located the inlet stream flowing down the 200-foot cliff from Big Marshy Lake. Beside it was the route where the Bobs and I had ascended to the upper lake. This was not your Forest Service maintained and approved trail, but a well-worn scramble up the loose soil and red rock along the right-hand bank of the tumbling creek that linked the two lakes. I remembered the climb as exhausting. It would be even more harrowing with a 45-pound backpack.

I showed the shortcut to Barbara, and she was good with it. We took it slow, pausing along the way to catch our breath and stretch our calves. At the top we crossed the shallow stream on slickrock and arrived at a primo, secluded campsite on a wooded hill above the outlet stream.

Big Marshy Lake lay out before us, blue and sparkling in its rusty bowl hewn into bedrock from the earth's mantle. Clouds of willows and azaleas and other brush blanketed the water's edge, giving way to manzanita higher up. Sparse, open timber climbed the mountainside. The rock exposed along the shore and in the cliff face rising above us was rough and rounded, weathered a rusty beige, and in places cross-hatched with deep striations like the magnified head of a rasp. A few rocks, broken open, revealed the greenish-black face of peridotite. Below our camp a massive boulder head sloped gently into the water, offering a splendid place to swim or sit and meditate. Along the moist path crossing the outlet, hundreds of tiny frogs hopped and crawled like a living skin.

The campsite had a large stone fire pit below a meticulously built rock wind screen. A broad, flat clearing would easily accommodate our tent. The dense growth of trees along the outlet stream offered shade and a place to hang our food and hammocks. I did not waste a lot of time scouting for a better camp in that steep and rocky landscape. We set up camp there (N 41 13' 17.6", W 122 45' 45.6", 6300 feet).

As Barbara prepared dinner, Bob found us. He reported on his dayhike up to the Pacific Crest Trail, which traced the mountainside unseen to our north just below the Scott Mountain crest. Carrying only his small daypack, he had followed the road past Little Marshy on his way in, missing the two lakes entirely, then climbed the roads to the PCT. He had cross-countried blindly down Scott Mountain to our lake. Like us, he had neither seen nor heard Molly. We told him about the steep "shortcut" trail down to Little Marshy, and he headed off in that direction.

After dinner we found a use trail up the open cliff face above our camp. From a clearing we could gaze down on Little Marshy Lake in its verdant meadow. In the distance stood a gray and white pyramid of the Craggy Peak Batholith, reminding us that Tangle Blue Lake lay just on the other side of the broad valley. On this side we would find no granite.

That evening, two backpackers arrived and set up camp near a meadow far across from us on the northwest corner of the lake. Mere specks, they disappeared into the trees, kept to themselves, and could not be heard. In the morning they were gone. Perhaps they were on one of those popular forced pilgrimages along the PCT, trying to do 25 miles a day and missing everything.

It feltlike we had the lake to ourselves. From the rock head at water's edge we watched as darkness engulfed the lake until the bats and owls came out, then retired to our tent.

Thursday morning we dayhiked over the manzanita-covered mounds and swales at our end of the lake to the shallow north shore. There we intercepted a spur trail leading out to the wide valley at the foot of Scott Mountain. The valley floor was open and stubbled with dry, amber grass, through which a well-worn trail of rusty beige dust trended east-west. No trail sign was posted where the spur met the main trail. To the west, the trail would rise to a saddle, cross the Pacific Crest Trail, then drop down to East Boulder Lake. The PCT itself remained high on this side of the forested ridge to avoid the myriad popular lakes that bejeweled the north slope of the Trinity Alps. Why they did that, I could never understand.

We took the East Boulder Trail east, away from the lake, in search of a more gentle link to the road we had come in on below Little Marshy Lake. The trail soon crossed a stream, a tributary of what we were now calling Marshy Lakes Creek, where it became a graded road, probably connecting to the network of mining roads still maintained for access to Camp Unalayee and Little Marshy from the Scott Mountain Summit. At the summit the road paralleled the PCT for nearly two miles as it descended into this valley. If we had not left the road to follow the trail sign to Little Marshy Lake, we would have ended up here. This was the official access to Big Marshy Lake, and along it we would return.

Near where the road began its steep drop toward Little Marshy Lake, we saw a structure in the woods at the end of a driveway to the north. It looked to be another private inholding. Curiosity got the best of us, so we walked over to examine it. It turned out to be a small, newly-constructed cabin with a covered porch. To the locked front door was attached a Pacific Crest Trail emblem. Beside the cabin was a picnic table and an elaborate stone grill. Uphill in the trees stood a small outhouse. The cabin appeared to be closed down for the winter already, although the outhouse was still open.

We ate lunch and bided our time, and I wondered about the tidy little structure. If it was intended to be a shelter along the PCT, why was it locked? And if not, who had built it within the boundaries of the wilderness? And why? Months later I would learn in a telephone call to the Weaverville Ranger District that this was all privately held land. Four hundred contiguous acres. A doughnut hole in the wilderness. One landholder. Camp Unalayee. Its empire encompassed Mosquito Lake, Little Marshy Lake, and all the province in between. This was not a Forest Service shelter.

"Then why is there a Pacific Crest Trail sign on the door," I would ask.

"I guess I better go up there and talk to them about that," the ranger would reply.

Some wilderness.

When we got back to our lake, I swam in the deep water from the rocky outcrop below our tent. I could not coax Barbara to join me, but later we hiked back to the north shore and swam where the shallower water was warmer. We enjoyed the pleasant sunshine on our last full day in the wilderness. We saw swallows, nuthatches, and chickadees, and that night heard a great-horned owl nearby.

Friday we descended 1700 feet along a maze of old rocky roads and trails portaging between road segments, mostly unmarked, some with signs broken on the ground or missing or damaged, down the steep road past Little Marshy, down the steeper trail to Messner's Meadow, then down the rocky road and trail following Tangle Blue Creek, easily crossing the water several times, to the last campsite in the tall forest before the end of the wilderness. There we stopped to eat the rest of our food by the creek in a fen of five-fingered ferns.

Then we followed the final steep rocky road down to the trailhead. Pounding down an endless road in the bright sun under the weight of a backpack gives you plenty of time to think. Usually I try to tune my mind to my breathing, the mechanics of walking, the rhythm and rotation of muscle, sinew, and bone, the balancing of the world beneath my feet, but that day I thought about the road itself. I began to suspect that the various segments were but a single road that once ran all the way from the Scott Mountain Summit to the bluff overlooking Tangle Blue Creek, where we had parked the van. Like the Great Wall Shih Huang Ti had ordained, its random segments, built over an incomprehensible span of time and space, could never be confirmed as complete by any single individual. Kafka told us that. But a wall with gaps is functionally without purpose. As is a road that is not continuous.

Back at the van I sat for a long time in a lawn chair in the shade in my underwear trying to cool down. As we drove away, the sign advertising for Molly still hung from the kiosk like an overdue bill.

On Wednesday, five days after returning home, the telephone rang late in the afternoon. I let the answering machine screen my calls. A voice began, "Hey, Barbara and Rick. This is Michael. I'm the guy that lost his dog backpacking up there with you guys. I just wanted to let you know we found her, seven days later--"

I snatched up the telephone. "Hello? How is she? Where was she?"

"Up at the lookout on Bolivar Mountain," he said. Molly had lost ten pounds and most of her hair, her feet and body were cut up, and the sun had bleached out most of her brown spots. But otherwise she was fine. Michael described how they had stayed at Tangle Blue Lake through the weekend before returning home to Redding. On Sunday he received a telephone call from a woman who had been four-wheeling on a trail up to the lookout on top of Bolivar Mountain above the Scott Valley when she found Molly wandering along the trail, miles from where she had set off in chase of quail. The woman took the dog up to the ranger at the lookout and asked, "Is this your dog?"


"Can I leave her here with you?"


When she motored back down to Callahan, she saw a poster Michael had put up at the store and called him. She and a friend brought the dog all the way to Redding, where Molly was reunited with her family and her pups.

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